Hands Across the Hills
Hands Across the Hills is grassroots group formed in 2017 and comprised of 25 individuals, residents of rural Western Massachusetts and residents of Eastern Kentucky coal country. Our goal was to meet face to face with people from a community that voted differently, in an attempt to better understand each other. We met for three immersive weekends of dialogue and cultural exchange in each other’s towns, in fall 2017, spring 2018 and fall 2019. A fourth weekend gathering was scheduled for fall 2020 but was postponed due to Covid, and instead we continue to dialogue on Zoom.
The heart of each of our long weekend gatherings is structured dialogue, in which feelings are expressed honestly and deeply, creating trust and care for each other. In addition to these face to face sessions, we experience each other’s community and family life through potluck meals, music, excursions and home stays.
Hands Across the Hills has melted away stereotypes so that we can see each other’s human face. The bonds between us have become stronger than our political differences, although those differences remain. We care about each other as friends.
2018 Domestic Peacebuilding Award
In October 2018 Paula Green accepted the first Melanie Greenberg Award for domestic peacebuilding on behalf of Hands Across the Hills. The award was given by the Alliance for Peacebuilding, a network of international peacebuilding organizations, at its annual conference in Washington DC. Paula Green's acceptance talk is available both in text and audio in the Resources section of this website.
Our Origin sTORY
A group of Leverett, Massachusetts residents—organized through the Leverett Alliance and with the guidance of Paula Green—came together in the wake of the 2016 election. The group sought partners with different histories and perceptions to explore the aftermath of the election. They were fortunate that individuals in Letcher County, KY, organized through the Culture Hub of Appalshop and with the guidance of Ben Fink, agreed to a partnership. As both communities were rural and surrounded by mountains, we called ourselves Hands Across the Hills.
Leverett members of Hands Across the Hills, Oct 2017
Letcher County members of Hands Across the Hills, Oct 2017
letcher County Culture hub
The Letcher County Culture Hub is a growing network of community-led organizations in Letcher County KY who work together to build a culture and economy where "we own what we make." The Culture Hub's members include community centers, local businesses and business associations, artist and artisan
organizations, volunteer fire departments, government and educational organizations, and nonprofit corporations, convened and facilitated by community organizers at Appalshop.
Culture Hub partners have started businesses, revived cultural events, influenced public policy and brought more and more citizens of Letcher County into the process of imagining and building their future together.
Paula Green, Project Guide and
Lead Organizer for MA
In February 2022 Hands Across the Hills lost an inspiring leader in Dr. Paula Green. Paula had 40 years experience as a psychologist, peace educator, facilitator, and mentor in the field of
intergroup relations and the resolution of community conflicts. In1994 she founded the Karuna Center for Peacebuilding in Amherst, Massachusetts, a highly regarded US-based NGO focused on international conflict transformation, inter-communal dialogue and reconciliation. She was Professor Emerita at the School for International Training (SIT) in the US, where she founded and directed CONTACT, the Conflict Transformation Across Cultures Program, with its two annual institutes and graduate certificate program for peacemakers from around the world. Her work took her to many regions of Africa, Asia, the Mid-East, and Europe, as well as within the US.
In 2009, Paula received an award from the Dalai Lama as an “Unsung Hero of Compassion.” The Unsung Heroes award is presented to “individuals who, through their loving kindness and service to others, have made their communities and our world a better place.” She also won the “Psychology of Peace and Justice Prize” from Psychologists for Social Responsibility, 2012, as well as a “Leadership and Service as a Peacemaker” award and a Human Rights award.
After the 2016 presidential election, Paula increased her focus on restoring US relations fractured by political and cultural divides. Engaging communities antagonistic to each other because of their political allegiances, she and other residents of her hometown of Leverett, Massachusetts co-created Hands Across the Hills (HATH). Her last major effort was co-creating with Ben Fink, under the auspices of HATH, the Dialogue Across Divides training of dialogue facilitators, which took place over three days in October 2021 with twenty-five participants in Leverett.
To learn more about Paula Green’s life and work: paulagreen.net
Ben Fink, Lead Organizer for KY
Ben Fink works with communities'
centers of power and their allies in
cultural, religious, service, justice,
government, business, and
educational organizations to create
the conditions for people of all kinds to
come together across imposed divides and share stories, build power, and create wealth. He has organized in deindustrialized areas across the country, including the Appalachian coalfields, the Naugatuck Valley of Connecticut, and the urban centers of Baltimore, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis-St. Paul.
In addition to co-founding Hands Across the Hills, Ben is a founding organizer of the national Performing Our Future coalition and the Letcher County Culture Hub in east Kentucky. He has also trained and directed the homeless-housed zAmya Theater Project of Minneapolis, directed youth theater and creative writing programs in rural southern New Jersey, taught high school in Berlin, served on the board of directors of Appalshop and Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed, Inc., and dramaturged the German premieres of two Broadway musicals.
Ben holds a Ph.D. in cultural studies from the University of Minnesota. His work has been featured by Salon.com, the Brookings Institution, TDR/The Drama Review, Harvard Law School, Americans for the Arts, and PolicyLink. In 2020 Ben and Hands Across the Hills co-founder Paula Green were recognized by Time Magazine as two of "27 People Bridging Divides Across America."
Contact Ben: ben.fink [at] gmail.com